LYNCHBURG — About 300 residents of the Rivermont and Boonsboro area packed tight into the basement of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Langhorne Road on Sunday to hear from the Villa Maria’s owners about a proposed townhome development they say would forever change the character of their neighborhoods.

Many residents came in wearing “Save the Villa Maria” shirts to show their distaste for the project proposed by Mitch Namrow, with NRM Associates, who has requested to rezone 1000 Villa Road from its existing R-4C conditional use to R-4C use with revised proffers.

The property is adjacent to the Villa Maria, a 15,000-square-foot Georgian Revival-style mansion at 3021 Rivermont Ave., as well as Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.

It backs up to about 10 single-family homes on Krise Circle. The abandoned school on the property, Villa Maria Academy, would be demolished to accommodate the new development. The academy closed in 1983 becasue of declining enrollment and fell into disrepair.

The plan is to build 51 townhomes, on six of the nearly nine acres behind the Villa Maria. The development includes two-story homes with a walkout basement and one- and two-story duplexes.

During the hour-long meeting, Todd Leap and Mark Little, owners of the historic Villa Maria, said they have seen surveyors on the Villa Road property since the beginning of the year and have had a hunch something was coming down the pipeline for development.

During the meeting, which the two organized, Leap said at night time the back of Villa Maria would be illuminated by more than 50 townhouses and forever transforming the look of one of the most architecturally significant properties in Lynchburg.

The total value of the property on Villa Road is $393,300, according to Lynchburg’s online geographic information system. The property is owned by California-based Peak Capital Group.

Leap said he and Little have attempted several times to purchase the property but Peak Capital Group was requesting too much — $800,000, he said.

“They have a right to develop it but a responsibility to develop sensibly,” Leap said. “I didn’t move into this neighborhood to live next to townhomes.”

Namrow told The News & Advance last week he chose the area because it would bring options to not only home buyers but those already living in the area who are looking for a change.

“Our planned community will be a good fit for the area,” he said. “By bringing in new homeowners, it will expand the Lynchburg city tax base, and add to the community at large.”

At-large Councilman Beau Wright attended the meeting and said based on what he has heard so far, he would not support the development as proposed.

“It’s entirely out of character with the neighborhood,” Wright said who grew up off Langhorne Road. “The Villa Maria, we all know this, is a gem of Lynchburg and this would totally change the nature of what this neighborhood is supposed to be. It’s not right for Lynchburg.”

He said he would be shocked if Lynchburg City Council voted in favor of the project.

Leap said during the meeting Sunday from 1952 to 1983, the Villa Maria property was used as a boarding school. During that time, classrooms, dormitories and a gymnasium were built on the acreage behind the main house and gardens, referred to as the “school property.”

Between 1988 and 2006 the Villa Maria property was bought, sold and repossessed several times.

Leap said very little was done in the form of long-term restoration and the property fell into disrepair over the years.

In 2003, the Rivermont Historic District was created, protecting most of the Villa Maria and some of the school property.

Portions of the property — including the carriage house built in 1911 and a portion of the walls in the Charles Gillette garden constructed in the 1930s — fall on the school’s property, which are not in the historic district, Leap said.

If approved by Lynchburg City Council, Leap said there would be 19 townhomes within 25 feet of Villa Maria and the new buildings would overlook the backyards of several other homes on Krise Circle.

“If anyone in Lynchburg doesn’t think this will affect a historic home, they need to come out and look at the property,” Leap said.

Namrow said last week he has offered to add landscaping or a fence to ensure neighbors’ privacy.

“Anything we can do to help or make them more comfortable we would like to discuss with them,” he said.

Tom Currie, a Lynchburg resident, said the city has a rich history and a big part of that history is the beautiful homes along Rivermont Avenue.

“The thought of townhomes towering over one of the most iconic homes is incomprehensible,” he said after the meeting. “Just looking at the Villa [Maria] and the property around it can only make you smile. Let’s not let someone in California ruin it for us.”

Gary Case, owner of Gary W. Case & Co., said during the meeting he didn’t have a “dog in the fight” but represents Peak Capital Group — not the developer — who is selling the property.

He reminded people much of Rivermont across from the Villa Maria already is zoned R-4.

“Yes, it’s a nice single-family area but, at some point, a project will be developed. I don’t know where it will all end,” he said. “Rivermont is the multi-use road in Lynchburg.”

Leap said although his home his zoned for R-4, he and Little have been working with the city for years to change the property to R-1.

The Lynchburg Planning Commission is slated to hold a public hearing on the request at 4 p.m. Sept. 11.

Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.

Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.

Breaking & daily news emails

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.

Recommended for you

Load comments